ISL Musings: Kerala Blasters' alien football, the agony of Ogbeche

Adrian Luna and his Kerala Blasters celebrate the spectacular goal he scored against Jamshedpur. Shibu Preman/Focus Sports/ISL

As the Indian Super League transitioned into the New Year, it was much the same of the old one as Mumbai City FC retained their spot atop the ISL standings at the end of round 12. Each of Hyderabad FC, Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan won their encounters to keep their spots in the top 4, with Goa and Odisha still in the playoff places.

We muse, on the latest round of fixtures:

Alien football, in God's own country

Dear me. Dear me. Ivan Vukomanovic, what have you built?

Kerala Blasters' normally raucous home crowd needs little encouragement to raise the roof (literally) off their stadium, but it's rare to see them audibly gasp in unison. Yet, when faced with football from another planet, that's the obvious response. Adrian Luna's third goal in the 3-1 win over Jamshedpur FC is comfortably the best team goal scored in the ISL, ever. A quick 1-2 with Sahal Samad, and two delicious backheels later, Luna stroked home a goal that took the breath away, with the Jamshedpur defence reduced to glorified training cones amidst the blur of one-touch football.

Yet, this wasn't a surprise - Vukomanovic's side have been threatening to score in this manner for a while now, with only the finish lacking. The Blasters' patience is being rewarded now though - it's a long way away from being second-last in the league, with only 3 points from their first 4 games. There is a legitimate shot at silverware this season, the acid test of which will come in their next game against Mumbai City. Kerala have won seven of their last eight games in an unbeaten run, and with Vukomanovic's side improving (xG trending up) with every game - we could witness the first real clash with implications for the league shield race.

Eight seasons of the Indian Super League have come and gone, with the Blasters going agonizingly close thrice. Kochi's sea of yellow need be patient only a little more.

Mumbai's football assassins

The deeply annoying aspect of the team Des Buckingham has built is that Mumbai City don't have to even play particularly well to beat a competitive side like Odisha by a 4-2 scoreline. Football shouldn't be this easy, for crying out loud.

Of course, there's plenty of hard work going on behind the scenes, but the ease with which Mumbai switched gears and ramped things up (four goals in 40 minutes, heh) after dawdling about in the first half ought to be disconcerting for their opponents.

Greg Stewart only needs a moment to change a game, as does Lallianzuala Chhangte, as does Bipin Singh, as does Ahmed Jahoud, as does Alberto Noguera, as does Jorge Pereyra Diaz. Mumbai have built a team of football assassins who can shrug off another team bloodying their nose and deliver final, telling blows. And what blows they were - Chhangte's arrowed finishes that sent him to the top of the scoring charts, while also underlining the confidence flowing through his veins with an excellent assist late on. It's no wonder this side is unbeaten all season - it will take a very special team to beat this side full of sharpened arrows in their quiver.

(Also, how interesting would a potential AFC Champions League matchup be between Mumbai City and Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al Nassr? One can dream, eh.)

The agony of Saint Bartholomew

Hyderabad FC put six past NorthEast United as Vincenzo Annese's side came swiftly back down to earth after their Christmas miracle. Six Hyderabad FC goals. None scored by Bart Ogbeche. What even is this timeline?

It's not even like Ogbeche didn't try his hardest - of the 31 players to take to the field at the Gachibowli stadium, he had the most shots (5) and the second-highest xG (0.62) of any player. And yet he neither registered a goal nor made an assist in this high-scoring encounter. When centre-back Odei Onaindia can find the net whilst slipping and falling with a first-time volley through a crowd of defenders, and Ogbeche can only earn 0.03 xGoT from his shots... maybe it's time to appeal to a higher power.

It's a testament to the ISL legend that he continues to plow on, no tantrums, ever the hard-worker - with Manolo Marquez fashioning a title challenge despite his best player enduring a nightmare in front of goal. Coach of the Year stuff.

A tale of firing and mis-firing strikers

A fair percentage of Roy Krishna's 37 ISL goals have come from him running on to a ball in the wide areas of the box, before arrowing a shot across the keeper into the net. He had three chances to do so against East Bengal, and spurned all of them. Similarly, Sunil Chhetri can't buy a goal this season - wait, he did buy a penalty from which he scored, so scratch that - but the BFC legend also spurned gilt-edged chances, chief of those a free header from six yards out.

Bengaluru FC thought they were upgrading their striking prowess by letting Cleiton Silva leave for Krishna, but it's worked out much the reverse, with the Brazilian leading the scoring charts. And he came back to haunt them twice - the second a delicious free-kick that was worthy of winning the game and having East Bengal leapfrog Bengaluru FC in the table. Not that it'll do much good, both sides look comfortably out of the playoff picture, barring a miracle.

P.S. - Lovely to see Anwar Ali get his first ISL goal, especially after the struggles he's faced in his career. Not so lovely to see both Ali and Ashique Kuruniyan battle for miss of the season, though.